Friday Football Legend: Jonathan Partee

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 10, 2008

By Mike London
The Friday Night legends series usually sheds light on forgotten facts, but in the case of Jonathan Partee, who quarterbacked Salisbury’s historic 1988 season, there’s new information.
Partee owns two statistical titles he hasn’t been credited with previously. Since integration, he’s the all-time total offense leader for Salisbury QBs. He also passed for more yards than anyone in Salisbury history.
Post records for the years 1968-1995 were compiled through serious sweat by Ed Dupree and John Workman and have proven 99.9 percent accurate, but Partee’s career numbers were calculated only for 1987 and 1988.
A rare three-year starting QB, Partee also was the Post’s Offensive Player of the Year in 1989.
Partee’s refigured, three-season numbers ó 2,477 passing yards and 861 rushing yards for 3,338 yards of total offense ó elevate him to a lofty place in county history.
Not that Partee, who now lives in Thomasville, has ever complained about the all-time charts.
“The thing I’m proud of isn’t anything individual, it’s that I played on great teams in high school and college,” he said.
Partee’s story starts as a youngster playing pickup ball in the streets.
“My mom, Jean, was very supportive of me playing sports from the time I was 4,” Partee said. “There were a lot of kids growing up on Monroe and Horah streets and we played whatever was in season. Cars couldn’t go up and down without stopping for us. Most of the kids were older than me, and if I wanted to play I had to learn to compete.”
Beyond athletic ability, Partee possessed intangibles. He was a people person and never took a day off. Counting his time in the Head Start program, he went 14 years without missing a day of school.
“That was just my personality,” Partee said. “I enjoyed people, enjoyed mingling, and school was important. There were times I didn’t feel well, but I still went to school and to practice. Then I’d go home and crash completely.”
Partee was a three-sport athlete for SHS and president of the senior class.
He stole 64 bases in three prep baseball seasons. He broke his nose diving for a ball in the outfield at Thomasville, but he turned pain into positives. His injury inspired a Salisbury comeback, and he also made friends with Thomasville legend Allen Brown’s wife, when she drove him to the hospital.
Two decades later, Partee and the Brown family remain close. Now that’s a people person. Best of all, Partee was discharged from the hospital in time to maintain his perfect attendance streak.
Catawba and Rowan Legion baseball coach Jim Gantt recalls Partee’s time with the Legion, especially a night at Wilkesboro.
“They called out the lineups and I was introduced as Jim Gnat,” Gantt said. “Partee loved it. He’s rolling around, just belly-laughing at me. But then they introduced him as Jonathan Petree, and he wouldn’t come out of the dugout.”
Partee arrived in high school at a time when football coach Gus Andrews, who had moved to Salisbury from Wilson in 1985, was rebuilding the program. Andrews handed the reins to Partee as a skinny sophomore QB in 1987.
“We started him young because he added a dimension we hadn’t had ó he could throw the football,” Andrews said. “He also had a quarterback’s command. The older players respected Jonathan.”
Salisbury was 4-6 in 1987, but it all came together in 1988.
“Coach Andrews gave us discipline, gave me things that help me now with my 5-year-old son,” Partee said. “We had a team that year that would not die, and I still feel like we should’ve won state.”
Partee passed for 1,035 yards in 1988, mostly to Kevin Corpening, who had come over from East Rowan. Corpening, who made all-county on offense and defense, caught 13 TD passes and made six interceptions. Linebacker Tim Blakeney, Partee’s childhood pal, was the county’s top defender.
Salisbury went 9-1 in the regular season, more regular-season wins than any team had achieved at the historic school since 1933.
The Hornets were CCC co-champions with Thomasville, ending a 14-year title drought. The key was a road rally at Lexington.
Partee was 8-for-9 passing for 147 yards and threw two TDs to Corpening as the Hornets beat Charlotte Catholic in the first round of the playoffs. But SHS made six turnovers and was eliminated by Lexington in a second-round rematch to finish 10-2. Lexington then fell to Thomasville.
Salisbury won that ’88 title in a difficult league. Lexington was 2A champion in 1985 and 1986. Thomasville was runner-up in 1987 and won it all in 1988. North Rowan was 8-2 in 1988 and finished fourth in the CCC.
“Coach Brown told me when Thomasville won the state, ‘Thank God, we didn’t have to play Salisbury two times,’ ” Partee said.
Salisbury moved up to the 3A SPC in 1989. Partee threw for 802 yards for a 5-5 team as a senior.
“Our school then was the same size it is now,” Andrews said. “It was tough to compete with A.L. Brown and Concord.”
Partee turned down a baseball offer from Elon and a chance to play football at Appalachian State to play both sports at Catawba.
Injuries held him back in the season and a half he played baseball, but he was on the great 1992 team that was 21-0 in the SAC.
In football, he was a defensive back and wide receiver. His magic memories are from his last season in 1993. He caught two touchdown passes in a 32-31 loss at Wofford and was part of an amazing 61-55 loss to Wingate, still the highest-scoring game in Catawba history.
“Any kid who has ever played sports would have wanted to be in that Wingate game,” Partee said.
Partee was a freshman redshirt, but he passed up the chance to return for a fifth season. He had his business degree and was ready to start a career and a family.
He’s been a rep in the freight and trucking industries ever since.
“Next weekend’s going to be a big one for me,” Partee said. “It’s homecoming for Salisbury, Catawba and Livingstone.”
If you see him, say hello to Salisbury’s all-time passing king.